Trinidad and Tobago are virtually assured of survival in Concacaf Nations League A and might even allow themselves loftier dreams, after the Soca Warriors pulled off a 3-2 win on the road against El Salvador last night.
Men’s National Senior Team head coach Angus Eve raised more than a few eyebrows when he jettisoned more than half of his 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup squad for this match window. But sport is, in large part, a result-oriented business and the embattled coach now has two wins from as many games—both against higher ranked football nations.
Defence Force stopper Justin “Shiggy” Garcia, controversially overlooked for the Gold Cup, got the famous item last night with a looping header that sealed a memorable result on the road.
Trinidad and Tobago now lead Group A at the midway point in the group stage.
A draw against Guatemala in Port of Spain on Thursday 12 October will ensure that the Warriors do not return to League B. But, whisper it, a win and Eve’s troops will be within touching distance of the quarterfinal round—from where six of the eight Concacaf nations would advance to the 2024 Copa America competition.
If Trinidad and Tobago’s results in this match window surprised, the manner in which they achieved them did not.
Like against Curaçao last Thursday, the Warriors saw less than 40% of the ball. El Salvador outshot their Caribbean guests 26-4 and made more than double the number of passes.
But, once more, Trinidad and Tobago were better in the stat that mattered most. And, in hostile territory, Eve’s soldiers showed guile and character when needed most.
El Salvador, like Curaçao, are a team in trouble. But then who isn’t these days, eh?
Coach Hugo Perez has gone a remarkable 11 straight games without a win—a run that stretches back to a 3-1 home triumph over Grenada on 4 June 2022.
Perez might have breathed a sigh of relief when 21-year-old central defender Eriq Zavaleta bullied Trinidad and Tobago captain Aubrey David to head home a Dustin Corea free kick in the 16th minute.
Not so fast, though. Ryan Telfer, who played a role in Trinidad and Tobago’s winner over Curaçao, pulled the red, black and white level in the 22nd minute with a spanking left footed drive off a Reon Moore cross.
And, remarkably, the Warriors went ahead in the 50th minute as Malcolm Shaw crashed in a penalty that he won himself.
Trinidad and Tobago had two shots on target and two goals.
“Angus-ball”, which is basically defending in a compact block and waiting for a loose pass by your opponent to launch a counter-attack, was working like a charm.
Inexplicably, El Salvador once more equalized off a set piece as forward Brayan Gil was left criminally unattended from another inswinging Correa delivery in the 57th minute.
Perez and 15,000 partisan football fans in San Salvador thought it was the start of their revival. But Garcia’s looping header off a left side Telfer free kick made a mockery of that.
And goalkeeper Denzil Smith, the baby of the starting team at 23, earned his keep with a string of competent saves—even as Eve threw on defensive players. By the final whistle, Trinidad and Tobago had six defenders and three defensive midfielders on the field while Duane Muckette was at centre forward.
The end justified the means. The Soca Warriors, like their head coach, weathered the storm.
Eve and his troops could reap the rewards in October when they host Guatemala and then travel to Curaçao. Suddenly, the wind is blowing in his sails.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 22.Denzil Smith (GK); 14.Shannon Gomez, 2.Aubrey David (captain), 17.Justin Garcia, 3.Ross Russell Jr; 15.Neveal Hackshaw, 23.Kristian Lee-Him (10.Duane Muckette 46); 7.Ryan Telfer (16.Michel-Poon Angeron 80), 18.Andre Rampersad, 13.Reon Moore (12.Kareem Moses 75); 19.Malcolm Shaw (6.Andre Raymond 90+3).
Unused substitutes: 1.Christopher Biggette (GK), 21.Jabari St Hillaire (GK), 4.Jesse Williams, 5.Kevon Goddard, 8.Daniel Phillips, 11.Nathaniel James, 20.Kaïlé Auvray.
Coach: Angus Eve
El Salvador (4-1-4-1): 18.Tomas Romero (GK); 21.Bryan Tamacas (captain), 4.Eriq Zavaleta, 2.Erick Cabalceta, 16.Alejandro Henriquez (8.Elvin Alvarado 86); 6.Narciso Orellana (14.Christian Martinez 80); 7.Dustin Corea (10.Mayer Gil 65), 15.Alexander Roldan, 12.Amando Moreno (11.Joaquin Rivas 86), 13.Leonardo Menjivar (19.Emerson Mauricio 80); 9.Brayan Gil.
Unused substitutes: 1.Mario Gonzales (GK), 3.Roberto Dominguez, 5.Rudy Clavel, 17.Eric Calvillo, 20.German Fuentes, 23.Melvin Cartagena.
Coach: Hugo Perez
Referee: Ricardo Montero (Costa Rica)